By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
When Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren looks back on his nine-plus years in Seattle, he remembers the good times, but also can’t shake some of the losses.
There was the 2003 debacle at Baltimore, during which his Seahawks were on the wrong end of a clock error. There was the playoff game in Green Bay a few weeks later, which ended on an overtime interception that the Packers returned for a touchdown. And there was, of course, Super Bowl XL.
But the losses that have had the most impact on Holmgren’s life have come off the field, leaving even more of an impression on him than the victories and defeats of football.
Holmgren’s tenure with the Seahawks began in January 1999, when he was a 50-year-old ball of intensity whose head coaching career had experienced very few failures. He carried labels like Offensive Genius and Quarterback Guru as well as a reputation for winning at all costs.
More than nine years later, at the age of 60, Holmgren enters his final season with Seattle with a different stamp.
He is a survivor.
During his first few months in Seattle, Holmgren lost defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur to cancer. In 2002, his mother Barbara passed away. There was a cancer scare for wife Kathy, and assistant coach and close friend Ray Rhodes suffered a minor stroke.
That was outside of the game. As a football man, Holmgren has experienced plenty of heartache as well.
After going to seven consecutive postseasons, he missed out on the playoffs from 2000 through 2002. He lost his general manager title after the 2002 season. After a 2004 season that saw Seattle win an NFC West title but fall short of national expectations, there were rumors that Holmgren might be on the hot seat.
Through it all, Holmgren survived. And now he enters his final season on his own terms.
“If he should be remembered for anything, it’s the last four division titles and the Super Bowl that he took us to,” offensive coordinator Gil Haskell said of Holmgren’s tenure in Seattle. “The state of the franchise is very good. … He should be remembered for being one heck of a fine football coach.”
Holmgren was asked Wednesday how the nine years in Seattle changed him, and he admitted that they have.
“Hopefully I’ve gotten a little wiser and more mature about things,” he said. “I think I delegate better than I used to. I spend more one-on-one time with my players than we used to. I think we all change.”
Tight ends coach Jim Lind, who is the only assistant who has remained with Holmgren during his entire career as a head coach, said he hasn’t necessarily noticed the changes in his boss. As examples, Lind pointed toward Holmgren’s intensity and drive to win. He added that Holmgren always has put family before football, even before he got his first head coaching job.
“His family is important, my family is important, and the players’ families are important to him,” Lind said. “He had opportunities to become a head coach before he took the job in Green Bay, but it wasn’t right for his family so he didn’t do it. You know how hard it is to get a head coaching job in this business, so that says a lot.
“As we go through life, we become more aware. But he’s been Mr. Consistent with me for the last 17 years.”
Some of the players who have worked under Holmgren in Seattle have seen him change as both a person and a coach.
Left tackle Walter Jones, who is the last remaining player left over from before Holmgren’s arrival, said that the longtime coach has been more accessible to the players. Holmgren, Jones said, has gotten to know the players better on a one-on-one basis, making him less intimidating and more human.
“He was a big name for us coming to Seattle,” Jones said. “He was a guy who proved that he could win, so you just had to buy in. Once we did that, and we trusted what he said, it made things a lot easier.”
Linebacker D.D. Lewis arrived in Seattle during the down years of Holmgren’s tenure, joining the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent in 2002. A deeply religious man, Lewis said he has seen Holmgren go through a progression both on the field and off of it.
“Spiritually,” Lewis said, “we always have room to mature. You can tell that he’s maturing more as a spiritual man.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is Holmgren’s intensity, as evidenced by the coach’s blowup during a Wednesday morning practice. While practicing for the first time at the Seahawks’ new Renton facility, Holmgren stopped the session and brought his players and assistants into a circle for an impromptu lecture.
That’s the same thing Holmgren would have done during his first season as head coach of the Green Bay Packers back in the 1990s.
“I don’t think he has changed much,” said Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who spent his first NFL season under Holmgren as a practice squad player with the Packers. “… If we do what he expects, he’s in a good mood. If we don’t, he’s a lot less friendly.”
Over the past few years, Holmgren has been just as demanding but more approachable. He admits that age has brought things into a different perspective.
“When you look ahead and see there’s more years behind you than ahead of you, everybody thinks about (the past). I’m no different that way,” he said. “I am going to enjoy this year, though. I like this team. I like how they’re preparing. I’m focused on what I do all the time.
“And then at the end, I’ll reflect on how I’ve changed.”
While Holmgren’s life has changed in many ways during the past nine-plus years, his goals have not.
“He came here to do a job,” Haskell said, “and it’s not done. We still want to win a Super Bowl this year.
“But at the same time, he’s been successful here.”